September 16th marked the 1st Sunday of our WorshipArts season.  We gathered to introduce ourselves and think about the stories shared in worship:

God’s image suggested by open arms or an umbrella in Jan’s children’s story;  Alex helping to read the Genesis story of creation, from the Bible;  a beautiful dedication story of new forever family members;  and Ruth’s message rejecting the distorted story that racial bigotry and white supremacy tell.

How are these stories told?

How are our stories told?

We made a list…    

In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be listening to stories and telling stories; responding to stories and sharing stories; creating them, illustrating them, portraying them, and singing them – in other words, continuing the ongoing story that is worship and WorshipArts at Rainbow Mennonite Church.

Welcome, one and all!


Who’s Going to Tell the Story?

“Voice” has been a recurring theme through WorshipArts this year.  Along with the congregation, we’ve listened for voices of conscience, voices from the margins, voices of hope, and voices of resurrection.  On Sunday, May 13, we heard the adult choir sing the following words from a favorite anthem, “The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is mighty.”

But powerful isn’t always loud – and sometimes it is the quiet, small voice that has a mighty impact;  The still, yet persistent voice that feels like a nudge and whispers a call.  I think that is how Rosi would describe the beckoning she felt toward a seminary degree, and eventually the licensing process which culminated in the worship service honoring her new credential on that Sunday morning.

Before the service, she shared with the WorshipArts children the significance of the day to her.  And after the service they shared their heartfelt congratulations, which they posted on her office door.

As Minister of Worship and Music, Rosi’s leadership has been offered most visibly and audibly through music.  She has encouraged us, young and old, to lend our voices and instruments – helping us tune them along the way.  Individually and collectively; as soloists and in ensembles, as a choir, as WorshipArts participants, and as a congregation. Informally and formally; as friends gathered at a loved one’s beside, as neighbors in the park, or with professionals in a concert hall.  Rosi leads with musical skill and knowledge, but she also leads through relationship.  The affirmations from the children expressed appreciation, admiration… and love.  (As seen in the excerpts below)

“Congratulations on getting your liecense (sic) for ministry today.  I’m sure you worked extremely hard to earn it.”

“I’m happy for you.  You play very good music.  Your very lovely and I mean it.”

“It is so fun with you in the class.”

“You are awesome.”

“Thank you for helping us.”

“You are the best”

“You teach us songs and lots of other things too.  You make music flow through the church wich (sic) makes me happy.”

On Sunday morning the WorshipArts children sang a piece by Natalie Sleeth for the Call to Worship, and I can’t help but hear in it, as well, Rosi’s call to all of us…

“Who’s going to tell the story?  You and I!  Tell of the Lord’s great glory?  You and I.  Who’s going to let the whole world know?  Help his disciples grow and multiply?  You and I.”

Congratulations and thank you, Rosi!!


Composting Prayers

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers –                                                                                                                                    I asked the tree, tell me about God… then it blossomed

These words sung in haunting melody, with a hum of bass and tenor undertones, surrounded the children as they mixed handfuls of shredded paper prayer requests into a bowl of compost during the worship service on Sunday morning.  In what has become an annual springtime ritual at Rainbow, the anonymous prayers collected and lifted up throughout the year, are returned to the earth through the compost pile which nurtures the playground, the community vegetable garden, the orchard, and the Remembrance Garden. 6b088452d6.

For me, the physical act gives weight to the metaphors – and I wonder what, or if, this ritual contributes to the understanding of prayer in these young minds?

We talked about composting in WorshipArts – they know a lot!  They shared how composting turns the garbage scraps into “good soil”, how the paper could be added to the compost because “it used to be a plant (a tree!)”, and how the resulting soil is enriched so “new things can live”.  So why add our paper prayers to the compost?  “Maybe because they are secret?” one voice suggests.  “So they can do good things?” another adds.  As I stumble to explain that sometimes we need our imagination to help us understand ideas that aren’t always clear, Rosi offers that composting prayers is like a symbol.

And then we added our own prayers to the bowl.  I shared my understanding that while people pray in all different kinds of ways, most of the time prayer starts by paying attention to what is in your heart (your feelings) or in your mind (your thoughts).  The children were invited to choose a paper scrap that reflected a prayer they identified with in that moment – a blue scrap for a prayer requesting help; a pink scrap for a prayer offering thanks; and a purple scrap for a prayer of wonder.  One by one, they tore their chosen papers into smaller pieces and added it to the mix, soon to be returned to the earth.

Silence my soul – the earth is prayer.                                                                                                                                     I asked the earth, tell me about God… then it gave life. *

*words from Silence My Soul by Francisco Feliciano


Taking Flight

Along with learning to fold origami cranes in WorshipArts the past few weeks, we’ve also been reading the book that brought Sadako Sasaki’s story into international consciousness – Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.

Moving through a few pages each week, we’re getting to know this young girl who lived in Japan from 1943-1955. Thanks to the author’s deft portrayal, we can easily relate to Sadako’s impatience and love for running races, her devoted family and bamboo class schoolmates, her outward exuberance and her inner secret worries.  We learn that Sadako’s grandmother died when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and that even nine years later, the poison from that bomb was still causing illness in many who were present that day.  We were happy to hear of Sadako’s racing successes and concerned when dizzy spells turned into hospitalization and the dreaded atom-bomb disease diagnosis.

When Chizuko, Sadako’s best friend, brings a golden paper crane to the hospital on one of her visits, we are introduced to the legend that folding 1000 cranes is said to make one’s wish for good health come true… and suddenly our folded cranes have found purpose too.

“During the season of Lent, the WorshipArts children have been hearing the story of Sadako and folding origami paper cranes as symbols of healing and hope. This crane was folded especially for you and is sent with love and good wishes!”

Whose spirits in our congregation might be lifted by a paper crane meant to bring good cheer and healing love?  As the children recall names they’ve heard mentioned during the Joys and Concerns portion of our worship service, they also add names close to their own hearts…

and as the envelopes are filled, one can almost see their compassion taking flight.


Folding Spiritual Practice into Lent

The colorful images on the altar this Lenten season beckoned to us early on –

Folding paper cranes has been part of Rainbow’s narrative for many years, after it was first introduced as an intergenerational project by Phyllis, who along with her husband Bob, spent part of their adult lives living and working in Japan.  The children who currently attend WorshipArts are too young, however, to remember the congregational history with origami cranes – so it was with wide-eyed attention that they welcomed WorshipArts alum, Seth, to share his expertise as the master folder of all the paper cranes currently gracing the front of our sanctuary!

Now a teenager, Seth shared that he was first exposed to crane folding when he was a WorshipArts youngster at Rainbow (“but I don’t think I actually ever completed one…”).  Later as a fourth grader, he read Eleanor Coerr’s book, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and this story stayed with him.  Coerr’s factual account of 11-year-old Sadako, an athletic Japanese girl sickened by radiation from the Hiroshima bomb, tells of her efforts to fold 1000 paper cranes in order to fulfill the legend that such a feat would cause the gods to grant her wish for good health.

So this fall when Seth inadvertently came across an origami book in the library of his junior high, he was intrigued and looked up the directions for folding a crane…and then decided to fold 1000…in one month!!

We were impressed and peppered Seth with questions like: How many cranes did you fold in a day? (about 33 per day);  What kind of paper did you use? (mostly origami paper, but sometimes regular notebook paper and once, even, a fruit roll-up!);  Did you make a wish when you reached 1000 cranes? (not yet);  What did you plan to do with the cranes?  (no real plan until someone from church asked about using them for Lent – that seemed like an ok idea);  and perhaps most importantly – Could you help us learn how to fold them?

Not a simple task, but week by week we start with a kami square and follow the steps – crease and open, turn and crease again, mountain folds, squash folds, practicing, assisting, a ragged rhythm –

a weekly spiritual practice in this season of Lent.


To Know By Heart

Memory is a complicated subject for me these days.

In many churches, memory work is a large part of the children’s faith curriculum – and while I haven’t noticed it to be a particular emphasis at Rainbow in recent years, it is one of many facets that the newly established faith formation board has held some discussion about as we work to consider potential priorities for children’s programming in our own congregational context.

Each of us bring varied experiences and perspectives to the conversation, and I realize that much of my own (admittedly limited) knowledge of Bible stories and memory verses came to me, and stayed with me, through music: choir anthems, children’s musicals, and hymn texts.  So with the Lord’s Prayer sermon series it seemed natural to look for a youth-friendly musical setting of the text to bring to WorshipArts.  But before we as leaders had even verbalized our intentions, one of the children spoke up and enthusiastically suggested, “We could learn The Lord’s Prayer by heart!”

And together we’ve been working at that – first writing what we already knew, then singing it with help from the adult choir, and finally creating beaded color prompts to remind us of each phrase.

Personally, I don’t recall when I first committed The Lord’s Prayer to memory, but it has stayed with me through the years.  While I don’t recite it often, I find a certain comfort in knowing that it is there and I hope someday these children might feel the same.  Worshipers heard similar sentiments from congregational voices a few weeks ago, and in recent months I’ve been struck by the staying power a memorized childhood prayer holds for my mom who is living with Alzheimer’s disease.

As her memory continues to fade, I take consolation in the belief that the words, the melodies, the faith… and yes, the faces of love, no longer known by memory – remain known by heart.


One God

We’ve been all ears (and questions!) the past two weeks with our guests, Holly and David.  Each joined our WorshipArts group on successive Sundays to share a bit about their respective faiths, Catholicism and Judaism.  Of course we can barely scratch the surface, and our questions center more around practice than theology.

In a Jewish church do you have a kneeling bench?

We are perhaps most intrigued by the physical aspects of worshipping – the use of a kneeling bench and making the sign of the cross; wearing a yarmulke for prayer and a rabbi’s seated posture when teaching to indicate that all are on the same level.  We learned to genuflect; and tasted challah bread.  We asked questions, pantomiming a news conference – and took notes as if we were reporters.

We wondered about prayer, about leadership, about communion, about worship days and places, about holy books, …about God.  So many differences, yet so much the same.  As David reminded us, all three of these religions worship the same one God.  And as I perused the notes left by the children, it was clear that this aspect resonated with them, appearing in nearly every individual’s list of things to remember.  But for one young listener, it seemed to have spurred an entirely new realm of questions as seen and translated below:

Where did God live?    

Is there one God?

Is God a person?

Where did God live?

What did God do?          

Ruth, you’re up!


“How do they pray?”

During the past few weeks, Ruth’s sermon theme of The Lord’s Prayer provided the seed for a new inquiry project in WorshipArts.  In my mind I imagined where the discussions might lead us and looked for materials that could contribute to thinking together about the concepts of hallowed, of heaven on earth, of forgiveness – and of course, sins, debts, and trespasses! 🙂

Instead we stalled at the very beginning  –  The Our Father versus The Lord’s Prayer!  In our group we have more than one family who honor and practice the different faith traditions of both parents’ upbringings, and suddenly the “title” of the prayer as well as its ending brought forth lots of animated discussion about not only distinctions between Catholics and Mennonites, but the varieties of religion in general.  “How many different kinds of churches are there?” and “Why does someone want to know another religion?” and  “What do they celebrate?” and “How do they pray?” and “Why is the person in front called a pastor in the Mennonite Church and a preacher in another church?”  and “Why can’t a girl be a priest?” and more!

It was quickly clear that we could use some help in exploring these questions and so we decided to invite guests with ties to other denominations to visit our WorshipArts time and allow us to interview them in person.  Of course we won’t be able to get all of our questions answered, but surely we will put this one to rest… “Can a person of a different religion come to a different religion’s church?”

And seems like that’s a pretty good starting point for promoting new understandings in any setting.


Christus Mansionem Benedicat

During WorshipArts on Sunday, The K-5th graders furthered the Epiphany conversation that Ruth started during Children’s Time.  As is a traditional custom for some congregations, we “chalked” the door of our WorshipArts room to symbolize the blessing of our space and our time together in this New Year.  If you look closely, you will see the customary symbols representing the year, the cross, and the initials of the three kings (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar)*.   You will also see the origami star we created to represent light and the gifts that the children hope for in a light-filled world.

Just this week I read about Meribeth Benner’s project** to encourage authors of juvenile and young adult literature to produce stories that present a hopeful vision of the future, in contrast to many currently popular fiction publications which portray dystopian societies filled with oppression and degradation.  In studying scripture, including the book of Revelation, Benner  concludes “There’s a sense of beauty and vibrancy on the earth.  I’m longing for that picture to be a part of what popular culture is engaging with as well.”   On her website,, she details a creative writing contest and gives optional prompts for both younger and older writers.  While the contest timeline does not work for our group, the tools she provides make me curious to learn more about the future world our children dream of.

During the fall, along with the congregation, WorshipArts participants spent time considering voices from the margins, hearing about voices of conscience, and eventually looking for voices of hope through the Christmas story.  With the dawning of this new year, I am eager to listen for these children’s voices  – voices  that not only dream of, but truly represent, this world’s future.

*The initials are also said to represent the Latin words, Christus Mansionem Benedict translated as “May Christ bless the house” or as I like to think of it, May Christ bless humanity!



I Am A Child Of God

Sunday was the final WorshipArts meeting for this school year.  As a means of reflection we gathered the various tangible representations of our time together and arranged them into a display format in the Fellowship Hall.  Congregants were invited to peruse the display and encouraged to talk to the children about their work – and many did.

Our time together each week is minimal and attendance variable, so I am always surprised anew at the end of the year to realize how substantial the accumulated collection has become.  Projects in various stages of “finish” – much undone – some abandoned as we moved on to a new idea, a different discussion, a temporary distraction.  And yet their voices come through, each unique, contributing to a collective chorus.

In her sermon, Ruth spoke metaphorically of faith as a playground, using James Reimer’s analogy that faith is like Scrabble – the design unfolding as the game progresses.  Provoked by elements in each weekly worship service, our WorshipArts encounters this year emerged into an overarching design that spoke to me of identity.

I am named

I am shaped by Anabaptism

I am the best part of me

I am a neighbor

I am all of my experiences

I am rooted and grounded in love

I am a child of God